Friday, August 31, 2007

Blessed Teresa

Most of us who have heard about Mother Teresa of Calcutta know her as the “living saint” ever since Time magazine put her on the cover with such a title. The name stuck and soon after she died in 1997, Pope John Paul II fast-tracked her canonization process so that she is now referred to as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Now the same Time magazine has published excerpts from “Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light” which is a collection of her private journals and letters that clearly depicts what St John of the Cross called a “dark night” of the soul, when one feels completely abandoned by God, that lasted for decades until the end of her life.

Blessed Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity and was greatly engaged in ministering to the poorest of the poor when she confided to the archbishop of Calcutta “I find no words to express the depths of the darkness.” A couple of years later she wrote “in my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me — of God not being God — of God not existing.”

Eventually Mother Teresa was able to sublimate these dreadful doubts and began understanding the sense of total abandonment that Jesus must have experienced when he was crucified. This understanding allowed her to be faithful to her heroic ministry.

I myself believe in God mostly because I want to believe in an afterlife. I don’t want to think that nothing follows this brief earthly spell of ours. It is comforting to know that even our Saints who have laid their lives for others are sometimes wracked with uncertainty. What matters is whether we can make these doubts transform us into even more compassionate persons.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hello Again, naturally

In 2005, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was almost driven out of power when it was revealed that tapes existed of her conversation with one of only 5 election Commissioners, Virgilio “Garci” Garcillano during the 2004 Presidential Election. In the recording, Gloria’s voice is unmistakably caught participating in the following discussion:

GMA: Hello…
Gary: Hello, ma’am, good morning. OK ma’am, mas mataas ho siya (he is leading, referring to the votes for Fernando Poe Jr.) pero mag-compensate po sa Lanao yan (but it will be compensated in Lanao).
GMA: So, I will still lead by more than one, overall?
Gary: More or less. It’s the advantage ma’am. Parang ganun din ang lalabas (The outcome will be the same).
GA: It cannot be less than one M?
Gary: Pipiilitin ma’am natin yan. Pero as of the other day, 982. (We will try. But as of the other day, 982).
GMA: Kaya nga eh (That’s why) …
Gary: And then if we can get more in Lanao…
GMA: Hindi pa ba tapos (It’s not over yet)?
Gary: Hindi pa ho, meron pa hong darating na seven municipalities (Not yet, there will be returns from seven municipalities).

GMA subsequently apologizes to the Filipino people for her “inappropriate” conduct but insists that the call did not matter anyway because she won by more than a million votes over her next rival. Since then, she has never failed to change the subject whenever the matter would surface, insisting that she has a country to run and peace to keep and so on and forth.

One major reason why I cast my lot as a candidate for the Senate was precisely to prove the inability of all our traditional politicians to search for the truth. I maintained throughout the campaign that what Arroyo did was without question a crime punishable by impeachment just as stoning was the prescribed penalty for adultery 2000 years ago. Only, just like before, who among our guardians could cast the first stone?

I have a personal stake in this issue. Together with 17 other candidates, I did not get a single vote in 22 voting centers in Maguindanao, an area in Mindanao that retained the henchmen of Garcillano. Cheating remains a sordid reality in our elections and it will continue to discourage people from participating in democratic processes and it will continue to disenfranchise citizens who do not have any access to the mighty powers available only to our traditional dynasties. The entire political structure is corrupted and so heavily stacked in favor of the Arroyos and the Zubiris it will take much more than retiring and reassigning a few fall guys. Our country needs peaceful revolutionary change starting from the top, nothing less.

Comes now Vidal Doble, a character with a name that le Carre could have invented. Doble is prepared to disclose how the wiretapping was perpetrated. Imagine how some people in the “intelligence” establishment in our country can listen with impunity to even the most confidential and perhaps criminal calls from the highest officials in our land?

But do our leaders want the truth to emerge? Immediately a cacophony of protestations erupted in the Senate chamber that sought to suppress the re-airing of the famous tape because we are patronizingly reminded about the criminal nature as well as the inadmissibility of a wiretap. Can we tell all these clowns that this method will not work any longer? This issue will not die just because our economy is booming and there is finally real peace in Mindanao and our educational system is First World and Philippine healthcare is the envy of the world. We need to know the truth. “Hello, Garci” needs to be reopened. Did Arroyo’s call to the Commissioner result in even one, illegitimate vote because if it did then we’ve had a pretender for President these last 3 years.

Gandhi’s Satyagraha is anchored upon the quest for truth thru sacrifice and active nonviolence. If we sincerely desire a country we can be proud of, a country that prizes justice and equality we need to be prepared to sacrifice. I don’t see the sacrifice coming from our traditionals any time soon. Once and for all, if we really want to find out what truly happened, we'll have to do it ourselves.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The C.R.

I knew my kids were integrating well when my 6 year-old asked to be taken to the “CR”. The initials, to the uninformed belong to the words “comfort room”, a peculiarly Filipino terminology for the loo. I don’t know how this appellation came about but it does sound too literal, a trifle vulgar even for a place where bowel and bladder are emptied. The use of these initials is widespread. Ask for the “washroom” and you will be mostly met with quizzical looks.

Much like when you are placed on hold at the telephone and your patience is requested with the phrase “for a while”, another singular Filipino creation that is a literal translation of the Tagalog expression “sandali po lamang”.

I am not complaining. On the contrary, I am pleased that at an early age these kids are resourceful enough to adapt and blend with the rest of their countrymen.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Not Peace but Division

The Gospel today contains one of my favorite quotes from Jesus: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”

He saw it clearly so long ago that revolutionary change was going to hurt and divide and make people squirm. He wasn’t after compromise and he wasn’t about to bend to any special interests. His heart was burning with zeal to change the world that even then had become rotten and corrupt. Is it part of our human fate to relentlessly fight injustice and suffering? Maybe so but our true calling is to stay in the fight.

We have this tendency in our country to play nice and remain civil even to those who flagrantly disrespect the rights of other people. We are quick to forgive and we find it distasteful to mete out punishment. Take for example this Marcos crony who made a lot of money from commissions resulting in the construction of the Nuclear Plant that never produced a single watt of electricity. When Marcos got deposed, he fled to Austria and bought a title and a castle. He is now back and openly perambulates around the country with no shame whatsoever. His well paid lawyers are successfully cleaning his sordid record.

Considering millions of children received substandard education and became malnourished from the $2.8 billion we paid for this worthless nuclear plant, I don’t think it would be considered overreacting if we shaved this Count’s head and paraded him all over. We should collectively turn our backs against these individuals.

The day has come for division. It’s not whether you’re for Erap or for GMA. It’s whether we will allow immoral public officials to continue overstaying, career politicians with nothing but their self-serving motives. Should we continue to support this same cast of characters who proclaim themselves as our tribunes but who have utterly failed to unite our nation into fulfilling its glorious promise?

Tama na. Kung nais nating isulong ang laban ng Sambayanang Pilipinas ay handa dapat tayong lumaban at sumigaw at mag-wala sa lahat ng katarantaduhan at katiwaliang nagaganap sa ating Bayan.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Power Interruption

Had to wait an hour to post this because we had a second “brownout” here in Bacolod. In all my time in the US, I don’t recall a single time when power was interrupted. When we lived in New York, our neighbors told us stories about the widespread chaos that resulted from a one day blackout that occurred in 1977.

Brownouts are commonplace here. Power surges too. Electronic appliances are severely put to the test. These inconveniences have their charming side too. We had frequent power interruptions while growing up in Quezon City and these were the times we had dinner by candlelight and we would be regaled with horror stories and we would hold “programs”, a wonderful bonding opportunity.

Now that the power’s back, everyone’s watching television and downloading songs into IPODs. The family hour just ended.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Love or Language

English getting lost in translation in Philippines
By Carlos H. Conde

MANILA: "We grow our hogs in our own farms so you're sure to get meat that is grown."

"The city's voice is soft like solitudes."

"He found his friend clowning himself around."

"He seemed to be waiting for someone, not a blood relation, much less a bad blood."

Such phrases, lifted from government-approved textbooks used in Filipino public schools, are reinforcing fears that crucial language skills are degenerating in a country that has long prided itself on having some of the world's best English speakers. At a time when English is widely considered an advantage in global competitiveness for any country, many fear this former U.S. colony is slipping.

English is an official language here, along with the native Tagalog. Yet the U.S. State Department, in its "2007 Investment Climate Statement," released this month, concluded: "English-language proficiency, while still better than in other Southeast Asian nations, is declining in the Philippines."

The article from the Herald Tribune is news only to those who live outside of the Philippines. We are all abundantly aware here. How can you expect these kids to learn English when they don’t even have schoolrooms and sturdy desks? And let’s not even talk about the more than 50,000 teachers who have left the country. We need to be teaching these children LOVE for country. Will you expect them to clean their surroundings, respect the rule of law, conserve natural resources, learn and earn abroad and return from abroad if they don’t give a rat’s ass about their country?

An educator who recently attended a seminar for teachers in Tokyo told me that Korean, Japanese, Chinese students had the following priorities in descending order: country, family, education, health and work. Here we have family, God, education. Education I presume being the stepping stone to foreign shores. Nothing about the country. You think Japan became the second largest economy on the strength of the English skills of its citizens? And Koreans? Ever wonder why there have been many Filipino physicians in the US and hardly any Koreans? Because Korean doctors have a difficult time passing the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language).

It’s never been about language. It’s always been about love.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Lost: Labor and Love

Big news for the day is the 12 peso a day wage hike that labor groups are denigrating as “alms” next to the 125 peso increase they had been demanding. Both Lee Kuan Yu and Henry Ford advised paying your employees well in order to increase productivity. Ay there’s the rub, fair wages, land reform, universal healthcare and free education are all predicated on the principle that in order to produce competitive and productive and happy citizens, essential investments will have to be made with the costs borne by everybody. You want a First World country, everybody will have to chip in. Let’s face it, even if our 4 billionaire Filipinos and all the millionaires were to donate their entire estates to the national patrimony, we still will not be able to achieve significant gains in standard of living because apart from pushing the few mightily motivated people into hibernation the underlying problem of under productivity will continue to drag us all down.

We are able to build plush new residences only because these developments are prepaid with overseas remittances. Our shopping malls are full and there is a big market out there for gyms and spas because from all the money pouring from all those service-related jobs. Nothing wrong with this but we have to accept the reality that unless we are all prepared to sacrifice (and I know this sounds a bit unfeeling because how do you expect the many poor to sacrifice even more?) we can never hope to attract the potential billions of dollars that foreign direct investments bring. Why should you invest in our country when the peso is strong, the bureaucracy corrupt, the highways congested and crumbling, the electricity expensive and the minimum pay in Metro Manila is close to $8 a day, against Thailand’s $6.35, Beijing’s $3.43, Indonesia’s $3.25 and Vietnam’s $1.27?

It doesn’t have to be this way. We had a larger economy than South Korea in 1970. In 20 years, South Korea vaulted into the top 10 economies in the world. No new economic thought was required. There wasn’t a secret formula they stumbled into. All that it took was a different way and a new group of committed people to conduct an already existing orchestra to produce harmonious music. And, as in a ceasefire, we need people with credibility to coax us into entering an arena with mutual trust and a clear understanding that in order to build a nation of character we must all sacrifice together.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Get Me My Bolo

This from the wire service: “A hostage-taking incident at a manpower placement agency ended peacefully after the suspect released his victim and gave up to police.

The suspect, applicant Gilbert Ember, 23, held Ergie Alcala, 27, officer-in-charge of the Triple I Manpower Agency with a jungle bolo, allegedly to demand the refund of his P40 registration fee.”

We are talking about an amount less than a dollar here but I hope it is clear to one and all that the desperation stems from the kind of work these people apply for and the $125 that they can potentially send back home very month if they don’t spend hardly anything on themselves, meaning they rely on kindly employers and friends for toothpaste and soap.

It takes a major investment to be “deployed” abroad. This is an operation that requires the efforts of the whole family. If you are going to work as a “domestic” (euphemistic term for maid) in Lebanon, it will take you about 18 months to break even with your initial investment. And the work is drudgery, manual and above all, lonely. And we are not factoring yet the abundant cases of abuse that are overwhelmingly kept secret.

Meanwhile your family back in the Philippines becomes inured to the monthly stipend and the kids, to compensate for your absence are allowed every whim and fancy to remind them that they are loved and not forgotten. This is an opportune period for the stay-behind spouse to ponder his/her human need for companionship.

It’s a tough life these “applicants” are headed for. In many countries, there is no religious freedom and in a court of law, all it takes is the testimony of the employer to secure a conviction. So understand why even you will reach for a machete when you realize the rape begins at home.

Friday, August 10, 2007

August Days

August 19 and 21 are coming up. Birthday of Quezon and the other, the day Ninoy Aquino was assassinated. I think it’s safe to judge these 2 men by now: vainglorious patriots, heroes. My grandfather, Jose S Bautista worshipped Quezon who appointed him Judge over half of all Mindanao (Davao and Cotabato) during the Commonwealth. Out of respect I never argued with him whenever he’d begin extolling Quezon’s achievements. Until he died at the age of 102, my grandfather regarded Manuel Luis Quezon as the Filipino Prometheus. I was born 18 years after Quezon died and thus I was free to form my own objective judgment on the man. Remember, I am Quezon City-born and I frequently went to the Quezon Memorial Circle when I was a child and I was exposed to all those exhibits about his life and accomplishments. I saw Pope Paul VI at the Quezon Memorial and I can clearly recall the colored fountains that entertained us, the hoi polloi during summer evenings. We always set aside a “Linggo ng Wika” (week of the native language) throughout grade school and high school to learn and appreciate the greatness and patriotic foresight of Quezon. At first I felt MLQ compromised too much and sought political power too fiercely; I thought he was inordinately awed by Douglas MacArthur. It didn’t help that he clearly relished the trappings of pomp. I did get to know him a lot more from his speeches and from the numerous books and essays by historians who were eager to weigh-in with their own opinions about the man. And all in all, considering he came from the rugged remote eastern coast of Luzon facing the Pacific, and taking advantage of whatever education available to the natives at that time Quezon will be remembered well because of his love for the Philippines and for this alone, all his human failings will be forgiven.

Ditto on Aquino. These days all we hear about him are his daring exploits, courageous speeches as well as his unshakeable faith and unwavering bravery. Hagiography, they call it. Not that Ninoy is entitled to every bit of it but a major part of the lesson will be lost if we don’t consider that he had many moments of doubt and fear. That he succumbed to temptation often. Ninoy Aquino should rightfully be venerated because he was able to overcome his core of ambition and ruthlessness and arrogance and pride and sacrifice all that he had for his country.

Our country is on a dangerous drift . We have almost completely rehabilitated the Marcos dictatorship. Many ignorant people even hearken back to those imagined halcyon times. And who is to blame? Many benefited and got away scot-free. There are no lessons to be learned. Nothing personal on Marcos here. He was as human as our heroes and the rest of us and he simply took advantage of his superior political instincts and skills to promote a culture of unsurpassed corruption and rapacious personal aggrandizement. It is that we should not idealize what went on during that period which was the complete opposite of the communitarian patriotism that Quezon and Aquino lived and died for. We need to be ever vigilant not to allow our base nature to take over because just as the crowd chose Barabbas, we will do the same if we are not careful.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Reagan Library

Spent my final day in LA visiting the Reagan library in Simi Valley. These libraries are the modern day equivalent of the pyramids and the architecture, setting, contents reflect how a former president wants to be remembered. This place was redolent with Reagan-era memorabilia and properly reflected what defined the Reagan magic: heavy on show biz and light on substance. There was the entire Boeing 707 Air Force 1 on display in a specially-built hangar as well as the Marine 1 helicopter that he frequently used throughout his term. His years with the movie industry were well documented and the Iran-Contra scandal was justifiably downplayed.

Reagan represented what a good ordinary man can become with extraordinary luck. Talk about a charmed life. His worldview was simple and his faith in his country was absolute. He strove to leave the world a better place. Unlike his predecessor Jimmy Carter who was considerably more nuanced and thoughtful, Reagan sought to define his leadership with uncomplicated choices. If his style sometimes worked against the less-fortunate it was because Reagan did not fully comprehend the almost limitless amount of good that his position endowed.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

A Day at the Getty

Whenever someone visited us during our years in New York City we’d always include stops to the Metropolitan Museum, the MOMA, the Guggenheim, the Brooklyn Museum, there were so many places of profound interest. There were obviously far less similar venues in Oklahoma but we were busy building our professional careers and we hardly missed those heady days.

Yesterday, we found ourselves at the Getty Center. I will admit we were reluctant visitors because our time in California was limited and we wanted to shop for golf clubs and books and for an idiot-proof digital camera. Turned out to be one of those exceptional, totally unexpected eye-opening experiences.

We could have stayed there a full week and only scratch the surface of the vast repository of human experience available. Must have been my age and the kids were not with us and we had the whole day but seeing those sculptures and paintings and glassware and furniture and jewelry and photographs displayed in a fabulously designed building amid the most expensive real estate on earth filled me with wonder. I remember being awed by the display of wealth and power in New York and I would always muse as to how far we were in the Philippines from attaining these soaring feats of achievement.

Years ago, Emerson decried the absence of such a tradition in the US. He wrote about not having pyramids, history and authors but instead of being discouraged he wrote that “our day is come; we have been born out of the eternal silence; and now we live,--live for ourselves,--not as the pallbearers of a funeral, but as the upholders and creators of our age; and neither Greece nor Rome, nor the three Unities of Aristotle, nor the three Kings of Cologne, nor the College of the Sorbonne, nor the Edinburgh Review, is to command any longer…”.

I know our day is coming.